The ultimate guide to underage drinking regulations

If you’re the owner of a nightclub, you’ll know the importance of underage drinking regulations and legalities. They’ve been kicking about since 1839, after all.

Studies show that, though underage drinking is declining, 73% of 15 year olds still report that they have drunk alcohol at least once.

We’ve put together a series of quick-fire questions that will help you to make sure you’re up to speed when it comes to underage drinking regulations.

Should nightclubs let you in the night before your 18th birthday?

It depends on club policy. Legally, someone aged 16 or 17 can enter a pub, club or nightclub if accompanied by someone over the age of 18. But, understandably, many nightclubs want to prevent this.

Some nightclubs will allow entry after midnight on the day of the customer’s birthday. Others claim the club night is applicable to the previous day’s date and will refuse entry. This is because observers would not have any way of knowing if a customer was let in before or after midnight, and therefore there would be a grey area regarding the legalities.

If in doubt, call the nightclub and double check their policy. If you’re a nightclub owner, it’s worth having a clear policy in place so your door staff know the best way to approach the situation.

What is the Challenge 21 scheme?

The scheme was first introduced by the British Beer and Pub Association to help prevent young people buying age restricted products. Even though the minimum age to buy alcohol is 18, this scheme allows service staff to feel more confident requesting ID.

The Challenge 25 scheme is the same in principle, only this ensures customers are aware that if they look under 25 they may be required to produce ID. And no ID means no service, whatever the circumstance or protestations.

The scheme is in place to prevent young people lying about how old they are. Staff members should always ask for acceptable identification: a passport, a photocard driving licence or a proof-of-age card.

If your nightclub doesn’t display any Challenge 21 or 25 posters, you can get them from the Under Age Sales website.

What happens if you serve an underage drinker?

If you sell alcohol to young people, you could have your licence suspended or revoked.

Owners, management and staff all face consequences if they are caught selling alcohol to someone underage. In some cases, you’ll be given a Penalty Notice and required to pay a fine. You may be given the option to attend an approved education course to cancel this notice.

If a member of staff does break the law, you are requested to show that you have taken adequate precautions to prevent it happening – such as training all staff members. It seems an easy solution to dismiss the staff member who made a mistake. But don’t make any hasty decisions and where possible speak to an employment lawyer for advice first.

What records should I keep to prove we take underage drinking seriously?

Training records are imperative. Both management and staff members should know the legalities and severity of serving alcohol to those under 18. The training records will show you have taken all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of your customers and the protection of young people.

Keeping a refusals record could also be a good idea. This will demonstrate your club is taking due diligence to ensure young people are refused alcohol. If for any reason you lose your training or refusals record, explain the situation to the Trading Standards Officer – don’t just “hope for the best”.

You should also keep CCTV footage that can clearly show a transaction, such as asking for ID or refusing a sale.

It goes without saying, but never falsify records. That’ll class as a separate offence. And you really don’t want that.

What happens if someone seems underage, but is clearly already drunk?

The Licensing Act 2003 means all club staff have a responsibility for the people they serve drinks to. It’s not legal to continue selling alcohol to someone who’s clearly had too much to drink already. Not only should you never serve someone who looks under 25 and doesn’t have ID, you should never serve someone who’s already drunk.

Can I serve someone under 18 a non-alcoholic beer?

Legally, yes. But only if the drink is below 0.5% ABV. If the drink is above 0.5% ABV it’s classed as low alcohol, and can therefore only be sold to someone of legal drinking age.

It’s common for pubs and clubs to continue their Challenge 25 protocol regardless of whether the drink is no-alcohol beer/wine. This leaves little room for human error (for example, picking the wrong bottle up) and stops staff from getting into the habit of not challenging people. On a busy night behind the bar it’s easy to go into autopilot, and a small mistake can have a big consequence.

How can I minimise excess drinking?

It is a legal requirement for all bars and clubs to ensure free tap water is available. Again, training staff to recognise when someone has had too much to drink will empower them to stop serving the customer.

Who is responsible for preventing under 18s drinking at a club – the door supervisor or the bar staff?

Both. Whatever your club’s policy, it is essential that all staff members are aware of drinking regulations legalities. They should be thoroughly trained to ask for ID if someone appears under 18. The official age check, and asking for ID where necessary, must be conducted at the point of sale. Not just on the door.

Is there a standard club entry policy?

Every nightclub will have their own entry policy. However, all door supervisors will need to be registered with Security Industry Authority. It is an organisation that regulates the private security industry, providing the relevant licences and training. This is because door supervisors often have a tricky task. They need to make sure everyone in the club is of a legal drinking age, and identify any potential risks.

Are you insured for the ‘what ifs’?

So you get hit with a hefty fine. You’re in danger of losing your license. Someone makes a public liability claim against your club. Do you have the correct insurance cover to protect you in case the worst happens? That’s where we step in. We know the nightclub industry inside out, and have access to some of the UKs best specialist insurers. So we can make sure you get the right cover tailored specifically to your needs. Get in touch with the team!